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Calcium carbide for fruit ripening can pose serious health hazards, warns FSSAI

The use of calcium carbide for fruit ripening poses serious health hazards and has no place in our food system. The FSSAI's warning should serve as a wake-up call for us to take action and bring about a positive change in the way our fruits are ripened.

Written By: Kristina Das @https://twitter.com/KristinaDas2 New Delhi Published on: May 20, 2024 12:12 IST
FSSAI warns against calcium carbide
Image Source : SOCIAL FSSAI warns against calcium carbide for fruit ripening

Calcium carbide is a commonly used chemical compound in the agriculture industry, especially for ripening fruits. It is a cheap and easily available substance that is widely used by fruit vendors and farmers in India to speed up the ripening process of fruits such as mangoes, bananas, and papayas. However, this practice has recently come under scrutiny as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has warned about the serious health hazards associated with the use of calcium carbide for fruit ripening.

What is Calcium Carbide?

Calcium carbide is a hazardous chemical that can have adverse effects on human health. It is a colourless, odourless substance that reacts with moisture to produce acetylene gas, which is a known carcinogen. This gas can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and even skin burns. In addition, calcium carbide also contains traces of arsenic and phosphorus, which are toxic substances that can lead to serious health complications.

FSSAI regulatory

Food regulator FSSAI has asked traders and food business operators not to use the banned product 'calcium carbide' for ripening of fruits. In an official statement, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said it has "alerted traders'/fruits handlers/Food Business Operators (FBOs) operating ripening chambers to strictly ensure compliance with the prohibition on calcium carbide for artificial ripening of fruits, particularly during the mango season". 

FSSAI has also advised Food Safety Departments of states/UTs to remain vigilant and take serious action and deal stringently against person(s) indulging in such unlawful practices as per the provisions of the FSS Act, 2006, and rules/regulations made thereunder.

"Calcium carbide, commonly used for ripening fruits like mangoes, releases acetylene gas, which contains harmful traces of arsenic and phosphorus.

"These substances, also known as 'Masala', can cause serious health issues such as dizziness, frequent thirst, irritation, weakness, difficulty in swallowing, vomiting and skin ulcers, etc," FSSAI said.

Additionally, acetylene gas is equally hazardous to those handling it.

"There are chances that calcium carbide may come in direct contact with fruits during application and leave residues of arsenic and phosphorus on fruits," the regulator said.

Due to these dangers, the use of calcium carbide for ripening fruits has been banned under the Regulation of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011.

This regulation explicitly states, "No person shall sell or offer or expose for sale or have in his premises for sale under any description, fruits which have been artificially ripened by use of acetylene gas, commonly known as carbide gas".

Considering the issue of rampant use of banned calcium carbide, FSSAI has permitted the use of ethylene gas as a safer alternative for fruit ripening in India.

Ethylene gas can be used at concentrations up to 100 ppm, depending upon the crop, variety and maturity.

Ethylene, a naturally occurring hormone in fruits, regulates the ripening process by initiating and controlling a series of chemical and biochemical activities.

The treatment of unripe fruits with ethylene gas triggers the natural ripening process until the fruit itself starts producing ethylene in substantial quantities.

Further, the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIB & RC) have approved Ethephon 39 per cent SL for the uniform ripening of mangoes and other fruits.

The FSSAI has taken a step in the right direction by raising awareness about the hazards of using calcium carbide for fruit ripening. But it is not enough. The government, along with other regulatory bodies, needs to take strict actions to ban the use of calcium carbide and enforce strict regulations on the use of ethylene gas for fruit ripening. Farmers need to be educated about safer and more sustainable alternatives for ripening fruits.

(With PTI Inputs)

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